Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Q & A Session

The Question and Answer session after your presentation can be unsettling, especially if you're anxious about the kinds of questions you may be asked.  A good presenter tries to anticipate questions from the audience during the process of preparing for the talk, and in doing so,  do some research to be able to address possible unanticipated questions.  This alone, can you maintain poise and confidence.  A good rule of thumb is, if you KNOW your subject matter and overall presentation with all the specifics behind your statements, you should do fine.  Here are some tips to help you survive a Q & A session:

  • Be sure you understand the question.  You may have to repeat it or reword it. In answering it, be brief clear, concise and to the point.  No more, no less.

  • As you're answering a question, target it towards the overall interests of the majority of the group. If a top decision maker is present, consider answering what that person may also find interesting or relevant.

  • The Question & Answer session is usually after the presentation.  Often, the time allotted to answer questions is limited to, say, 5 or 10 minutes which limits the number of questions that can be addressed.  A good way to control the number of questions is to have people write questions on a piece of paper and pass them up to you the lectern. This  allows you a few moments to not only preview and think about a reply and it also allows you to be more selective in which question to answer and as well how  "in depth" you will go into it.

  • If you don't have an answer or don't know about a certain area within the question, say so!   The audience will respect you for being candid.   Never try to fudge your way with a "white lie" or by side stepping the answer with an impromptu, long winded answer.  People know when they're being fooled. Just admit that "I'm not familiar with that aspect" or "Frankly, I don't know" and promise to find out and to get back with them within a day or two.  By all means do so!  You don't want to lose your credibility. 

  • If a question requires a lot of detail, irrelevant to the topic at hand or may require a personalized reply, offer to meet after the session is over or during the break.  Exchanging contact information is also an option where you both can discuss the question away from the venue with less time limitations or distractions.
The Question and Answer session is a great opportunity to shine.  All it takes is being well prepared with the knowledge of the subject matter in your presentation and knowing the overall presentation itself, backwards and forwards,  so that you can revert to any part of your presentation and expand on any statement within it.  You will appear to answer with authority, poise and confidence.  Think it's easier said than done? Not really.  Remember, YOU are the one being asked to speak, probably because it was felt that you have the knowledge and expertise on the subject matter that the audience wants you to share.  Give yourself that.  It's a privilege and rather humbling to be able to share with others who want to hear about what you know.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

Public Speaking: 10 Keys for Correct Lectern Etiquette

Great speakers are natural and have an individual style. Style, however, is very different from protocol. As a speaker, you can destroy your credibility with poor lectern etiquette. Here are some tips for delivering professional presentations:

  1. Do not lean on the lectern. The lectern is there to hold notes, hide awards, and to support the microphone and other electronic devices. It is not a leaning post. Holding on to it with a white-knuckle grip announces to the audience you are nervous. Stand straight, a few inches away from the lectern, with both feet firmly on the ground.
  2. Gentlemen button coats. A buttoned suit jacket is a must for male speakers. During the speech, keep it buttoned if the speech is formal and/or does not require any arm waving or extreme body movement. Women may also button their jackets, however, because women's styles vary, a buttoned jacket is not required; women suffer enough having to wear high heels.
  3. Shake hands with the person who introduced you. In days gone by, when a person approached the lectern after the introduction, the introducer handed over control of the meeting by passing the gavel to the person being introduced. Today, with a handshake, control of the lectern occurs symbolically while giving an appearance of continuity and friendship. It is rude to both the speaker and audience to introduce a speaker and then leave the lectern unattended as the speaker approaches. The lectern or podium is the focus of the audience's attention; do not jeopardize the professionalism of your event by leaving it unattended.
  4. Always thank the introducer and greet the audience. Proper etiquette requires good manners. Before beginning your speech, it is polite to thank the person who introduced you and to greet the audience making a special greeting to dignitaries, government officials, and other special attendees. Remember you were invited and consider it a privilege.
  5. Familiarize yourself with proper introduction techniques. Learn proper introduction techniques and practice choreography at the lectern before-hand, if possible. The introducer and the guest speaker should not appear to be dancing as they exchange positions.
  6. Do not apologize for lack of preparation. There is no substitute for preparedness, however, there are times when preparation is not possible. Never apologize for lack of preparation! This insults the audience who will be wondering why you showed up and why you are wasting their time if you are not prepared. Cancel or postpone the engagement or, when this is not possible, take a few minutes to gather your thoughts, outline them on paper, and proceed with your speech. Chances are no one will even notice you are unprepared so why make it a point to tell them? If you are frequently called upon to speak at a moment's notice, prepare a "pocket" speech you can pull out and give anytime, anywhere, with variation.
  7. Eliminate distracting habits and verbal crutches. Those uhs, ahs, and ums can be very distracting and annoying. Practice your speech and record it to identify verbal crutches. Jitters can create havoc on your nervous system without you even knowing it. Nervous distractions like jiggling, tapping, hand clutching, etcetera, can detract from your talk. Learn good speaking posture, slow down, take a few deep breathes, and exhale any uneasiness. If you have a great speech and have practiced it, concentrate on relating your message to the audience, rather than how it is going to be received. Your delivery will appear natural and effortless if you concentrate on delivering your message with enthusiasm and sincerity.
  8. Every gesture, look, motion, and sound should have a purpose. Although body movement can enhance a message, movement that is made for the sole purpose of movement appears unnatural and awkward. Use hand and body movement to emphasize a point or to help the audience visualize. Naturalness comes with knowing your speech and practice. Practice relating the concept of your speech rather than practicing gestures. This technique brings out the natural you.
  9. Do not lose eye contact. Some talks are made to be read, others are not. Whether your notes are for reference only or meant to be read, poor eye contact is distracting. Good eye contact is a learned skill; practice.
  10. Do not thank your audience. As children, we were taught that it is polite to say thank you. It still is but, after a speech, it is erroneously used to fill in the space after the last word has been uttered. As you have already thanked everyone at the beginning of your speech, deliver a powerful closing, then simply turn it over to the next person with a smile and a handshake.

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development

©2010-12 VerbaCom®

Friday, June 10, 2011

What To Do When You're Losing Your Audience

Losing the audience is one of the most terrifying experiences all presenters want to avoid. First of all, you have to make sure you know it's even happening. It's great to focus on your message but as you're delivering your message, make sure you simultaneously scan your audience looking for "clues" indicating boredom, negative body language, etc.  "Salvage" techniques you use as you're losing your audience depends on the audience, purpose of the talk, and topic. For example, techniques you use to "wake up" a group of high schoolers are different from those you use when speaking to a Board of Directors.

In any case, realizing you're losing your audience and doing something about it early on, is critical. Once you've lost the audience, however, it's next to impossible to bring it  back and you can kiss the lectern goodbye. If that's the case, determining why you lost your audience in the first place, is the key to preventing it from happening in the future. Was it because of a poor delivery or was it because of a presentation that was  unorganized, hard to follow or not relevant to the interests of the audience?  Rather than beating yourself up, learn from the experience and focus on the future using these tips before you get behind the lectern:

  • Ask an SME, colleage or someone who is successful in getting his/her message across to evaluate you.  Make sure this person knows what to look for and has a proven record of presentation saavy and know-how.
  • Seek someone who will be candid and honest with their evaluation of your presentation and delivery. Often what we think and do is usually very different from what the audience sees, perceives and thinks.  Take the suggestions seriously, smooth out the rough edges, and rehearse in front of a mirror or use a video camera or audio recorder.   Keep rehearsing until you feel confident with yourself and your material.  You want to flow effortlessly.
  • Welcome the feedback, good or bad.  The feedback can be invaluable and, if taken seriously, you'll definitely reap the reward of a great applause.   How can you grow and improve as a presenter if you don't know what areas need improvement? This is not the time to be thin-skinned. Don't take it personal. It's not about you, it's about your message.
Getting good feedback as you develop your skills in the creation of a dynamic presentation and in it's delivery, definitely increases the chances that your listeners will stay engaged and interested when the big day comes to present.

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development

©2011 VerbaCom®

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What is a Program Agenda?

Before getting into the details about a Program Agenda, I thought it best to define it. First of all, the overall schedule of events that occur during an event gathering is called a Program.  The written schedule of planned activities, their duration, and person(s) assigned to present or lead that activity within the Program, is called the Agenda or the agenda of the program itself.

The Program Agenda serves two purposes:  1) as an outline or roadmap of the activities that the attendees can expect to occur during the gathering and 2)  as a visual guide for the presenters themselves, to help them know where they fit in the overall Program and how much time is allotted for their respective presentation or activity.  A Program Agenda shows the duration of each activity on the Program so that it starts and finishes on time, and flows.

From start to closing, the entire Program can take anywhere from an hour to a full day or more, depending on its purpose. The gathering can take the form of a meeting or a more formal event that is usually put together by an organization or company.  Program Agendas are often used in functions that include a sit down meal.  A Master of Ceremonies (Emcee) is often used as a coordinator or orchestrator of the Program.  He/she serves as the glue between each activity, helping the attendees enjoy the Program by explaining who or what's up next on the Agenda.  A good Emcee follows a carefully designed Program Agenda, keeping the Program flowing and on time, while maintaining an upbeat mood. The Program Agenda acts as a roadmap for the Emcee (and presenters) to follow and a framework for attendees as to what is going on in real time. 

With careful  planning and dynamic execution of your Program Agenda, chances are you will "nail it" and all the participants, sponsors and attendees will be looking forward to next year's event.

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development

©2011 VerbaCom®

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why Formal Training Always Trumps Experience

While attending a networker recently, I met, Phil, a born and raised Texan, who was President and founder of a medium-sized company where he had carved a niche in the real estate commercial market. He came across as confident, knowledgeable about his service. We immediately dived into the usual small talk. I went first, asking the usual questions, like "What do you do there?" and "How old is your company?" He had started his company 5 years earlier and, after conquering many challenges, a lot of hard work and persistence, he boasted his best year's earnings of $2 million, after which he asked me "...and what do you do?"

I gave my elevator speech ending with "We help executives at all levels, gain the confidence and professionalism they need to present before any group, any size, any where." I then handed him my card. He looked at it saying, "Public Speaking Coaching and Training. Well, Sir, that's something many people need...it's a good skill to know." I agreed. He then added while looking at my card, "Why...I've been speakin'  for 15 years in front of all kinda groups and I make presentations at events that I sponsor in the community and to my employees all the time, and you know what? ...I don't get nervous and nobody has ever told me my presentations stink. In fact, I get asked to come to speak to community groups all the time. While I don't need coaching or training myself, this is a great skill to know." Then he smiled, saying it was good meeting me as he put my card in his pocket.

This is common dialogue when it comes to the subject of  public speaking formal training.  Experience is great and should never be belittled, BUT knowledge through formal training by a professional expert in the field of public speaking, coupled with experience, contributes to one's success in delivering an effective and powerful presentation.  Given a choice, formal public speaking training always trumps experience in "winging it" or "just getting out there over and over".  Other speakers believe that it's who they are, that's important.

Unfortunately, "experience only" advocates and the "who they are" proponents, don't know, that they don't know about what to do, what to say and how to say it properly, in front of an audience when it comes to making a presentation.  This can be a very painful experience for the audience.

Here are some considerations:

1. If you are the President and large contributor of sponsorships to an organization, do you actually believe that people are going to approach you after your "marginal quality" presentation and tell you that your presentation was awful? Nope. Most people are kind and save their remarks about your presentation for later discussions among themselves. You heard them before, like, "Geez! That was boring!" or "Did you follow that?" or "What a waste of time!"

2. If you've never had formal training, have you ever noticed how you get an anxiety attack just before the presentation no matter how much you have rehearsed?  Every wonder why? All the rehearsing in the world will not fool your subconscious into thinking that you know what you're doing.  No one likes to feel that they're making a fool of themselves in front of people, especially if they don't realize that it's happening!  It's the Don't-know-that-you-don't-know Syndrome attacking from your subconscious.

Trying to convince yourself that "Practice makes perfect" won't help either because, as your subconscious will remind you, "you don't even know if you are rehearsing the right things!" Every speaker's worst nightmare is being unaware of mistakes in delivery that are causing a loss of credibility in front of the audience. Cure: Big dose of knowledge by an expert that can coach you in what to do, what to say and how to say it, so that you do know-that-you-know what you're doing, will free you to focus on the presentation itself and not on how you're going to come across to the audience.

3. Then there's complacency. As an example, there is John, IT Manager, for a large software company who's worked his way up the ladder through numerous certifications, hard work and experience.  Although he's had no formal presentation skills training, he presents before the CEO, CIO, and VP often and feels he doesn't need formal training because management, he says, doesn't care about "ah's" or gestures or pretty slides.  Management wants facts and updates of viable information. Period. He believes he's doing just fine, thank you. John's is doing great...for now. He's in a comfort zone. Yes, he's doing a great job...inside the confines of that company world. Outside that company, things could be quite different. Sooner or later, there will come an opportunity to present to that outside world (at a conference, to a potential client, or to a potential employer) which will require a different set of delivery skills and approaches. What then?

4. It's very likely that there are people in your audience who have had formal presentation training and are aware of the in's and out's of a good presentation and its delivery. Odds are pretty good that these are heads of corporations, companies or organizations that may be your next business client, associate or sponsor. Impressions here can be critical.

For sure, once acquired, excellent oral communication skills become part of your "brand" as a professional, no matter where you are. A dynamic presentation is always a great way to make a good impression, demonstrating your professionalism, knowledge, self-confidence and expertise. Experience is always good, but when coupled with knowledge about formal public speaking techniques, your credibility in any field is enhanced - even yours, Phil.

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development
©2011 VerbaCom®

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

6 Critical Questions to Ask When Preparing Your Program Agenda

Critical Questions to ask to avoid disastrous Program Events. When creating your Program Agenda, there are several elements that you need to know about, whether it’s a simple Event or a more complex Program involving several presenters. Here are some critical questions you will need to resolve before creating your Program Agenda:

  1. How much time will be allotted for the Event? What are the start and ending times?
  2. What type of function is it? Is it an awards banquet with several recipients? Is it a reception honoring a person or persons? A dinner program highlighting a Keynote speaker’s expertise or simply to entertain? Or is it an extended Event with various presenters throughout the day in a Conference setting? The type will determine not only time related issues but also the logistics of sequencing and grouping of presenters.
  3. Who are your primary sponsors? Usually there are one or two “top” funders of your Event with others involved at a second or third tier level. Primary sponsors usually are recognized and asked to say a few words at the opening and second tier sponsors are recognized at the closing portion of the Event. Key sponsor representatives who are seated in the audience are sometimes asked to stand up for recognition and applause. In more sophisticated Events, sponsors are highlighted via pre-recorded videos on screens shown at strategic times during the Event.
  4. Who is the CEO, Director or President of the organization hosting this program? Will he/she be present at the Event? What is his/her correct title? Is he/she planning to be on the Program?
  5. Will there be a Keynote speaker? He/she is usually the highlight of the Event. Make sure this speaker doesn’t steal the limelight from the purpose of the Event and celebrated persons (like award recipients) in the program. Correct placement on the Agenda is everything here.
  6. Will there be a special mention of someone or some thing?

The answers to these questions are going to determine the structure and timing of the events in your Agenda.

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development

©2011 VerbaCom®

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Master of Ceremonies Toolkit: Planning a Flawless Program

Have you attended a formal luncheon or banquet lately? Did you enjoy the program? What feeling did you have when you left the event? Was it positive (glad you attended), negative (boring and a waste of time and money), neither (your body was there, you think)? Have you attended an event lately and found that most of the "audience" consisted of glasses filled with iced tea and salads ready to listen quietly?

We all attend banquets, luncheons, and other public speaking events for a variety of reasons. Some are great, some are far from it. We all have busy schedules and we usually have better things to do than to sit through a boring, long-winded speaker in a program that is poorly executed and unprofessional. Whether we are participating in the program as a speaker, being recognized for something, or part of the audience, paying for the meal ticket to help promote the cause or organization, we want to feel that our time was well spent, rather than wish we had made an excuse not to be there.

So, what separates the "ho-hums" from the "hurrahs"? What makes an event that is well-executed, professional, and energized? Two very important elements: a well thought-out and professionally-planned program and an experienced Master/Mistress of Ceremonies (Emcee).

A well thought-out and professionally-planned program

A good agenda takes into consideration the length and timing of the entire program. A well-planned agenda strategically places the sequence of the speakers for maximum effect and allocates the speaking times accordingly, while tightly weaving the entire program with lectern protocol and choreography of program participants. A good agenda considers the purpose, credibility, and reputation of speakers, as well as the purpose, goal, and direction of the program, so that the audience leaves the event feeling the purpose for attending was satisfied and the time was well spent.

An experienced Master/Mistress of Ceremonies

An experienced Emcee can enhance any program by keeping the various elements of the program in check and flowing smoothly by monitoring:

  • Program length - The Emcee is the timekeeper making sure the program stays on schedule.
  • Program execution - An Emcee, experienced in elocution and articulation, can make a program flow smoothly, seemingly without effort and without embarrassing delays or confusion as to what comes next, or worse, who comes next in the program.
  • Perceived professionalism - A program poorly executed is not only a direct reflection on the Chair of the event and the event committee, but may also impact the audience's perception of the sponsor in terms of professionalism and credibility. A less than professional program could damage a sponsor's image rather than enhance it.
  • Audience mood - Irrespective of the type of event, the audience expects to be entertained by a well-executed, professional program that fulfills the purpose for which they attended. An experienced Emcee adds color and vitality, holding the audience's attention and managing the mood so that attendees have an enjoyable experience and a sense of satisfaction.
  • Program pace - A program that drags on endlessly, is filled with empty pockets of silence or features self-centered, rambling speakers can be disastrous. A reputation of poorly executed, boring, or waste of time programs gets around in the community. For annual events, this may result in poor attendance and support for the event. A good Emcee monitors the pace of the program to avoid slow periods, maintain energy, and keep the audience from wanting to slip out the door during a strategic pause.

The importance of these very basic and crucial elements of any public speaking event are often overlooked. The results are manifested in the quality of the program. Can your event afford to be less than energetic, well-executed and professional? Is your event worth the effort to attend? Your credibility and professional image, or that of your client or organization, may be on the line.

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development

©2011 VerbaCom®